By KEN BRUCE
If I was an oddsmaker setting the odds for the winner of the “Balls to the Wall” 50-lap Thunder on the Hill modified feature, you can bet sportsman driver Brian Hirthler would have been a long shot. Not that the driver out of Green Lane, PA is not a talented driver because him being the career leader in wins in Grandview’s Sportsman division would suggest otherwise. Hirthler, who runs his open sportsman weekly in Grandview competition has run his No. 4* 358 modified for many years at the Thunder on the Hill shows and in the seventy-sixer and has had moderate success.
However, last night Hirthler showed he could run with the best of the best that Grandview has to offer holding off Mike Gular, Duane Howard, Brett Kressley, Jeff Strunk and Craig Von Dohren enroute to his first career modified win. Just look at the drivers behind him, those five drivers alone account for a total of 346 wins at Grandview Speedway which is roughly 25% of the modifed races run at the Bechtelsville, PA oval. It was a great accomplishment for the young driver.
“Man, I am still out of breath,” said a very excited Brian Hirthler after his big win. “Still a little surprised, but I always felt that I can run with them guys and the draw helped a lot to make the invert and the car is good and the motor is fresh. We came up here and practice with it a couple of weeks ago and learned a good amount but yeah, this is just awesome and honestly don’t know what to say.”
The format for the “Balls to the Wall” feature race is interesting as it breaks the race into three segments. The first segment is 20 laps with segments two and three being 15 laps. After the first two segments the top four are inverted making it an interesting concept. Hirthler was there at the end of the first two segments which put him in a position to win the race.
“The end of the first segment is what gave me the confidence,” mentioned Hirthler. “I started fourth and I held on for fourth there. Kressley and Manmiller had both passed me and dropped me back to fitth and I was able to pass Manmiller back to finish fourth and that gave me a lot of confidence to be starting on the front row for the second segment. I felt that I was just as good as anybody and when that happens you get a good boost of confidence to get back into the invert.”
In the second segment, Hirthler started on the pole and was quickly passed by Kressley and Howard to drop back to third. Gular and Strunk were also able to get by Hirthler dropping him to fifth and out of the invert for the last segment but on the last lap Hirthler was able to charge back by Strunk to finish fourth putting him on the pole for the last 15-lap segment.
“I feel bad for Jeff (Strunk), I don’t know if he felt it was over or maybe he thought he was third and was trying to let someone by so he could be on the pole for the last segment,” explained Hirthler. “I didn’t think it was over and knew that I was in fifth and knew it was a very important spot to say the least because if I don’t get him, I am starting fifth instead of on the pole. A lot of things are going through my head there, it was my first modified race of the year, but I knew I had to get by him. I got by him and then I was wondering if I got him a lap too late since they never changed it on the scoreboard but then after running two laps of caution, they changed it and then I knew I had gotten by him.”
That final pass at the end of second two put Hirthler on the pole for the last 15-lap segment with the best Grandview has to offer right alongside and behind him. Having Kressley, Howard and Gular right behind you all hungry for a $5,000 payday is enough for any driver to worry but Hirthler who mentioned this being his first modified race of the year knew what he had to do to get the job done especially after the last segment.
“I used my experience from the second two restart that I messed up and went to the middle letting Kressley and Howard split me which can happen in a heartbeat,” commented Hirthler. “I knew what not to do on this restart and after that I just kind of hung on and tried to hit my marks. I missed them a couple of times, but the car was good enough that I could recover and stay in front.”
The last segment saw Gular who started fourth after winning the previous segment work his way past both Kressley and Howard quickly to move into second. The last portion of the race saw Gular try the outside lap after lap, but Hirthler could always find the bite down low coming off of the corners to stay in front. With two laps to go, Gular switched up his strategy and moved to the inside and was able to get alongside Hirthler through turn three, but Hirthler didn’t flinch and held his line to stay in front. It was a good clean battle between friends.
“Gular respected me enough there to give me the room, he didn’t want to move me,” cited Hirthler. “Had I been roughing him up and driving him up to the wall I think he might have been more aggressive and maybe have moved me when he got under me. I appreciate and respect all the guys I run with, and I guess they respect me back. I just wanted to hit my marks and I wasn’t going to change my line. If he wanted to run that line, he was going to have to move me off it, but I wasn’t trying to move and block him, and he respected me enough to run me clean and I appreciate that. He was probably faster than me and if he would’ve cleared me, he probably would have left me, but he didn’t, and I ended up winning.”
“He (Gular) did get underneath a little bit at the concrete coming off of (turn) four with a couple of laps to go but there was a little bit of water there and I knew if I got a good enough run and make him get the low enough to hit the water it would make him spin his tires and he did and lost ground. I am not positive that is what happened to him out of (turn) four, but I felt like he wasn’t there anymore, and I was able to get back to my line and settle in. I think what happened is I looked up at the scoreboard to see what lap we were on and that’s what caused me to miss my mark that lap.”
The Hirthler family has been a staple at Grandview Speedway for many years starting with father Craig and now with Kevin, Brian and the newest racing Hirthler Kevin’s son Jesse who is starting to make name for himself in the Sportsman division. The car Hirthler drove to victory was eight years old powered by a Dave George motor recently freshened by Murray Race Engines.
“I have been trying to win with this car since 2016,” said Hirthler. “I got this car new from Dave Witte when he got out of racing. I bought it for $16,000 with mostly all brand-new components on it and I have been running it about five times a year now since 2016. It’s always been fast; we’ve never won with it and it’s been a handful at time but we have done some frame modifications on it but we finally got it dialed in. When you only race a car five times a year it takes time to get it dialed in but we have been practicing with it and made some adjustments to get it going the way we like it”
“I have to thank my brother Kevin and the rest of my family; without them I wouldn’t be racing. I need to thank all my sponsors, the Greene family at Pioneer Pole Buildings & Pioneer Metal Roofing, Whitetail Disoposl, Doug Rose at Action Track USA, my parents at Green Lane, WM Penn, Alpine Truck Repair, Reid Sod Farm, the Krachun family at Amwell Auto Body and MB Roofing. I could not be doing this without all of those great sponsors.”
If you have any comments or questions, I can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @dirtracefan25